Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, June 01, 2007

Egypt’s neglect fuels religious struggle

In a critical assessment of his own government, Egyptian citizen Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim expresses his discontentment with Egypt’s handling of conflicts between Muslims and Coptic Christians. “The modern Egyptian state does not respect the social contract between her and her citizens,” writes Ibrahim in an op-ed article featured on the website of the Coptic Assembly of America.

Ibrahim’s words come in response to a recent clash between Muslims and Copts in the city of Bahma on May 11. Muslims attacked in an attempt to prevent local church construction. Ibrahim notes that the Egyptian government honors “rotting Ottoman law from the 19th Century” that allows the Muslim population to dominate the area. He then goes on to say that when the Copts learned of the planned attack, they called the police to ask for protection but “the police did not give any importance to the matter.”

Ibrahim’s final point of frustration is what he refers to as “the stupidity of the state,” meaning the government’s inability to learn from the past and improve the future. “They do not read, hear, or learn,” he writes, “not after the 1st time or the 70th time.”

For the full article, click here


Harsh conditions for detainees in Cambodian prison

The lawyer for three men awaiting trial for human trafficking has requested a cell change due to conditions of “punishment and torture,” The Cambodia Daily reports.

The three suspects are accused of aiding Montagnard asylum seekers and have been detained at Ratanakkiri Provincial Prison since April 23. Counsel for the suspects described the cell as a five-by-five meter space with 16 inmates and only small holes in the ceiling for air. The prison was built in 1985 and has been used for holding political dissidents. “It affects their health and human rights – dark prisons should not be allowed. I wrote a letter to the governor to help build a prison, or at least build windows,” Ny Chandy, counsel for the suspects, said.

The suspects were arrested on April 20 and accused of taking money from the Montagnards in return for aiding their effort to reach United Nations refugee officials for protection. Apparently, the men accepted $125 to buy food and supplies for the Montagnards as they waited for the U.N. to place them under protection in the forests of Cambodia. The U.N. human rights representative in Cambodia, Henrik Stenman, said that the agency was continuing to monitor the cases of the 3 detainees.

Pen Bonar, the adhoc provisional coordinator, added that “there are no standards for keeping prisoners, and there is not enough air coming in.” Conditions in Ratanakkiri Prison have been the focus of heavy criticism by NGOs since 2002.

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Egypt gains council seat despite human rights record

If Egypt wants to keep one of the 14 seats on the United Nations Human Rights Council, it must improve its human rights record, Human Rights Watch, U.N. Watch and other rights groups said Saturday, according to the Middle East Times.

On May 17 Egypt was elected to the U.N. body, despite its questionable domestic record. The seat members are evaluated according to a number of factors, including, as the article notes, “political rights and freedoms, freedom of the press, and human rights promotion at the U.N.” Many groups argue that Egypt should not have been awarded the seat because of its notoriety for arbitrary arrests, routine torture and harsh restrictions on civil society.

Similar objections have been raised by human rights groups in response to several other seats recently awarded in the elections. Qatar, Angola and Belarus will join Egypt on the Human Rights Council in spite of their questionable records.

For the full article, click here.


Recent attacks threaten Egypt’s Coptic Christians

The Muslim village of Bimha (or Bahma) witnessed the start of what looks to be another anti-Christian pogrom on May 11 as Muslims attacked their neighboring Coptic Christians, the ASSIST News Service reported Monday. The Copts, Egypt’s indigenous Christians, are now facing increasingly precarious circumstances.

Tensions have been building ever since the planned construction of St. Theodore, the sole church in a town of thirteen local mosques. Members of the church have traditionally met in the homes of fellow congregation members, but recently reached an agreement with local Muslim clergymen to create a formal place of worship. However, the building remains unfinished due to repeated attacks that have prevented its completion.

A reconciliation committee comprised of 50 Muslim sheikhs and 50 Coptic priests ordered that the village’s Muslim elders pay compensation to the Copts, but the Copts declined. “How can I accept money from someone who beat me and burned my house?” questioned one local church member. “It would be like being paid for the abuse. At the end of the day we all live together and we will continue to do so for generations to come."

Copts fear that the rising trend of radicalization among Muslims will only continue to encourage “ordinary Muslims” to wage war against their neighbors. And, with little action on the part of the Egyptian authorities to prevent or punish the attacks, they predict that things are going to get much worse before they begin to improve.

For the full article, click here.


Thursday, May 31, 2007

Afghan landmine victims given cleared land

87 individuals were awarded with land in Afghanistan that was once filled with land mines, according to the UN Mine Action Centre (UNMACA), the UN News Service reported today.

The workers, many of whom were injured in the demining process, were given the land as a sign of gratitude by Mohammad Housain Anwary, Governor of Heart province. “Demining is really a continuation of Jihad,” Anwary said. “Jihad doesn’t only mean fighting and having weapons. It means supporting human beings, stability and development.”

“These deminers are really worthy of appreciation. Demining is the best support to the country,” said Mohammad Sediq, UNMACA Chief of Operations. “It is our duty to look after them, especially ones who have become the victims of mines. We thank Governor Anwary, and we hope this action will be followed by other government authorities as a positive example throughout the country.”

Previous news reports have classified landmines as a fundamental barrier to Afghanistan’s agriculture. The Mine Programme of Afghanistan (MAPA), created in 1989, was the first indigenous mine action program

For the full article, click here.

For more information on the status of landmine removal in Afghanistan, click here.

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UNICEF seeking increased support for Iraqi children

Forty-two million dollars has been requested by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in order to aid Iraqi children affected by violence and displacement, UN News Service reported on May 23.

Since the beginning of Iraqi military operations, 15 percent of Iraq’s population have vacated their homes. Of those 4 million people, half are women and children. For the next six months, UNICEF hopes to provide critical relief for the 1.6 million displaced children living in Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

UNICEF put $10 million of its own money into the expansion of Iraqi child relief programs. The campaign is focused on protection, education and nutrition.

The call for donors to fund this endeavor was launched by Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, who has recently taken the post of UNICEF’s first Eminent Advocate for Children. “For many Iraqi children, the long-term future may be unclear, but their present needs – for education, for health care, for clean water and proper sanitation – are clear and must be met – now.” Queen Rania noted that what the Iraqi children need, above all, is a resolution to the crisis. “That has to be our ultimate hope,” she said.

For the full article, click here.

For more information on UNICEF programs, click here.

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Afghans increasingly critical of U.S. operations

As the Taliban gains momentum and civilian causalities continue to rise, many Afghans do not see benefits to U.S. troops on the ground, BBC News reported today. In recent air raids, 57 Afghans, half of whom were women and children, were killed by U.S. bombs. “The bombardments were going on day and night,” said Mohammad Zarif Achakzai, whose house was destroyed by the raid. “Those who tried to get out somewhere safe were being bombed. They didn't care if it was women, children or old men.”

The anger and frustration from the bombing is only exacerbated by a lack of compassion and understanding of local customs by U.S. troops. “Americans came to the village without consulting any elders,” Achakzai’s wife Khwara explained. “They just came into to the women’s part of the house, so we women went to the elders, and we told them if you don't stop this, we women will stand against them.”

“It is taboo to enter houses uninvited, even more so to enter the women’s room, an act that can call the honor of the house into question. “It makes those men – who are very, very conservative – very upset and very angry, and they would be ready to do whatever they can do to stop it or to prevent it or to regain their honor that was lost,” said Nader Naderi, the commissioner of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC).

Other Afghans have come to the point of comparing Russian occupation with the current U.S. fight against the Taliban. Baryaly Noorzai, who was injured by the bombing said, “When the Americans came the people started fighting them back, and then the planes came and started bombing us. “Even under the Russians we haven't witnessed bombardments like it before.”

While the AIHRC documented at least 25 women and children killed in Shindad, U.S. Brigadier General Joseph Votel denies such reports, claiming just cause for the use of 2,000 pound bombs on mud houses.

For the full article, click here.

For more information on the AIHRC, click here.


Egyptian blogger speaks out in Washington Post

In a Washington Post op-ed Sunday, Wael Abbas documents his return to Egypt following a fellowship at Freedom House. Abbas fears that he could be arrested because he “dared to speak the truth about President Hosni Mubarak’s regime.” Upon Abbas’ arrival to Cairo, he was greeted by family members who had reportedly been followed throughout the day.

Abbas, a well-known Egyptian blogger, is an outspoken critique of Mubarak’s willingness to further entrench executive authority despite the fact that his government receives a little over a billion dollars in annual U.S. aid for supporting democracy. The Mubarak government is notorious for its human rights violations and, more recently, its crackdown on Egyptian activists using the internet to spread the truth about Egyptian oppression.

The government, in coordination with the courts, has filed lawsuits against over 50 bloggers for charges ranging from blackmail to defaming Egypt. Mubarak has been in power for 25 years and continues to rule through fear, corruption and oppression.

For the full article, click here.

For the blog of Wael Abbas, click here.(Arabic)

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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Land disputes increase ethnic violence between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq

The struggle between Sunni Arabs and Kurds in northern Iraq has added to the civil strife that continues to plague the country. Sunni Arabs are forcing Kurds out Iraq’s third largest city, Mosul, and into Nineveh Province, The New York Times reported today.

Part of the Sunni Arab fears fueling this violent rush stems from the political makeup in the Nineveh region. Thirty-one of the forty-one available seats on the provincial council belong to the Kurdish coalition, which only represents about 35 percent of the province. Under the Constitution, the autonomous Iraqi Kurdish region may take control of the northern and eastern parts of Nineveh through a popular referendum. As Kurdish power increases, so does the likelihood for such a referendum passing.

However, the Sunni Arabs are calling for more elections that will better represent the population before the Kurds call for a vote. “We demanded elections a year ago, but it never happened” said Muhammad Shakir, a local leader in the Iraqi Islamic Party. Conversely, Khasro Goran, a deputy governor in a neighboring province to Nineveh claims that “If the vote is put off violence will soar even further between Kurds and Arabs as each group struggles for the land.” He then continued, “this is a good time to solve the problem.”

While the Sunni Arabs wait for new elections and Kurds wait for relocation, the violence against Kurds from the Sunni Arabs increases, as does Kurdish animosity towards the Sunni Arabs. Unfortunately, as the violence continues to intensify, hopes for a peaceful solution dwindle.

For the full article, click here.

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Opposing sides agree there is much to be done in Darfur

“Peace process and protection” were the words uttered repeatedly during today’s “What to do about Darfur” forum hosted by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, GI-Net and ENOUGH!. Awke Amosu moderated the debate between African issues specialists John Prendergast and Alex de Waal.

Prendergast and de Waal share similar backgrounds, both having authored several books, participated in peace negotiations and both boasting extensive participation in and knowledge of African politics. However, the two have different ideas about the correct course of action to be taken in Darfur.

According to Prendergast, the solution to Darfur lies in peacemaking among all involved parties, protection for the most vulnerable populations and punishment for those responsible for the majority of the violence. A transparent, multilateral peacekeeping mission must be launched with legitimate international backing, both politically and militarily. Finally, Prendergast stressed that the key ingredient that is missing from the negotiating table is leverage, which must be generated by key investors such as France, China and the United States.

De Wall also stressed the importance of a comprehensive peace agreement throughout his argument, but was more concerned with addressing the underlying problems behind the conflict in Darfur. A dysfunctional government and growing disparity among the people of Sudan are key issues behind understanding the conflict and they must be addressed if the conflict is to be solved, he said. Lastly, de Wall said that a genuine peace agreement must be reached before protection through military force can begin.

Despite their differences throughout the debate, both emphasized the importance of international involvement in the peace making and peace keeping process. Prendergast and de Wall also agreed that there is a dire need for a comprehensive peace agreement that addresses Sudan as a whole, not just the situation in Darfur.


Boeing faces lawsuit for cooperation in U.S. extraordinary rendition practices

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to file a lawsuit against a Boeing subsidiary, Jeppesen, in California today, the International Herald Tribune reported Tuesday. The lawsuit, filed under the Alien Tort Act of 1789, seeks to take legal action for Jeppesen’s role in providing flight-support services for the U.S. practice of extraordinary rendition.

Extraordinary rendition, which the European Parliament has deemed an illegal act under international law, has allowed CIA officers to arrest, transport and interrogate terrorist suspects following the attacks of September 11, 2001. The ACLU lawsuit focuses on the circumstances pertaining to four men: Kassim Britel, a Moroccan-born Italian citizen, Khled el-Masri, a German citizen who was mistaken for a terrorist and abducted, an Egyptian requesting asylum in Sweden, and an Ethiopian residing in England.

“Evidence points to Jeppesen as a major player in the extraordinary rendition program,” said ACLU staff lawyer Steven Watt. “European flight logs identifying Jeppesen reveal that over a four-year period, the company was actively involved in the provision of flight and logistical support services to at least 15 aircraft which, European investigations confirm, were used by the CIA in its program of extraordinary rendition. The evidence here also points to Jeppesen contracting to profit from torture.”

“Without Jeppesen's services, the planes would never have been able to make those flights,” said Francesca Longhi, the Italian attorney for Kassim Britel. “If Jeppesen hadn't serviced the CIA's Gulfstream V, my client would never have been illegally deported to Morocco, where he has endured months of torture and years of illegal detention that is still going on.”

For the full article, click here.

For information on the ACLU lawsuit, click here.

For the ACLU press release, click here.

What about Afghanistan?

The U.S. has opened historic diplomatic relations with Iran for the issue of aiding in Iraqi stability while operations in Afghanistan appear to be taking a lower priority, Karl F. Inderfurth, a former State Department official argues in an op-ed in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune. While the Iraqi crisis certainly deserves attention, the war in Afghanistan has the support of the international community and both sides of the aisle in the U.S, Inderfurth says.

As the Taliban increases its influence, yet again, Inderfurth asks, “Is there a danger of losing in Afghanistan?” Six years after the initial removal of the Taliban, civilian casualties are at an all time high with little chance of an end in sight. Last year, 230 Afghan civilians died as a result of U.S. and NATO air and ground operations. Since March 2007, more than 135 civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 have been left homeless due to coalition operations.

The causalities have resulted in an increased level disgust with the presence of U.S. and NATO troops within the borders; triggering demonstrations and motions to set a withdrawal date within the Afghan Parliament. Unless methods are implemented to ensure zero tolerance for civilian deaths, the crisis in Afghanistan will continue to worsen.

For the full article, click here.


3 Iranian-Americans charged in Iran

Iranian courts charged three Iranian-Americans with engaging in espionage, The Associated Press reported today.

Among the three charged is Haleh Esfandiari, Director of the Middle East Program at the Wilson Center. Esfandiari has been held in Iran since May 8. The charges come just a day after historic U.S.-Iranian talks on Iraq and America’s concerns that Iran is funding various militias.

“Esfandiari has been formally charged with endangering national security through propaganda against the system and espionage for foreigners. . . . The complainant is the Intelligence Ministry,” judiciary spokesman Ali Reza Jamshidi said.

Kian Tajbakhsh, a consultant with the George Soros’ Open Society Institute, and journalist Parnaz Azima have also been charged with endangering national security through propaganda and espionage. Both the Wilson Center and the Open Society Institute have denied any strategy to implement what Iran has dubbed a “quiet revolution.”

A possible outcome could be a negotiation between the three Iranian-Americans and five detained Iranians in U.S. custody, although such as issue was not raised in the recent talks between the two countries.

For the full article, click here.

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Activists advocate for U.S. to pressure Viet Nam on human rights restrictions

In light of the ongoing political crackdown in Viet Nam, a group of Vietnamese-American activists on Tuesday urged President Bush to support democracy and human rights in Hanoi, The Associated Press reported the same day.

Bush met with four activists, including Diem Do, chairman of the Vietnam Reform Party, as a means of showing Washington’s disapproval with the ongoing crackdown by the Vietnamese government against pro-democracy activists. Among the six activists recently sentenced, three were associated with Cong Thanh Do, founding member of the People’s Democratic Party of Vietnam, who also attended the meeting.

“The United States has been concerned by the increasing incidence of arrest and detention of political activists in Vietnam for activities well within their right to peaceful expression of political thought,” National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said of the meeting.

In coordination with a resolution condemning the crackdown in Viet Nam, Rep. Earl Blumenauer expressed Congressional concern over the trend in Viet Nam. “I have been a consistent friend to Vietnam, but I cannot compromise my support for human rights,” Blumenauer said. “While I have always argued that we need to judge Vietnam on the progress it makes, it is clear to me that the Vietnamese government is headed in the wrong direction on democracy and human rights.”

For the full article, click here.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Egypt views recent U.S. congressional visit as duplicitous

A bipartisan delegation has received harsh criticism as they met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak before meeting a group of legislators which included representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, The Associated Press reported Sunday. The meeting with Brotherhood members is seen by Cairo as a contradiction of U.S. policy, as the Mubarak administration alleges that the U.S. chose to meet with the banned group despite its barring other similarly banned groups like Hamas from meeting directly with U.S. representatives.

“The United States says that it doesn't establish relations with a banned group, whether in Egypt or outside Egypt. The U.S. says it is meeting with the Brotherhood as Parliament members, but doesn't make the same distinction and refuses to talk with Hamas, who is heading the Palestinian government and is occupying the prime minister's seat,” said Mubarak's spokesman Suleiman Awaad. Hamas was overwhelmingly elected into power in 2006, but has been denied any meetings with a U.S. delegation due to its stance on military action in response to Israeli occupation.

Brotherhood member Mohammed Saad el-Katatni offered a rebuttal to the criticism of the U.S. envoy. “We met with the delegation for more than an hour and we discussed the American policy in the Middle East: Palestine, Iraq and Iran's nuclear issue. The talks didn't address internal Egyptian issues or political reform,” el-Katatni said.

The Muslim Brotherhood has been banned from Egyptian politics since 1954; however, group members have managed to win seats running as independents. The Egyptian government is quite set on ensuring that the Brotherhood remains a minority voice in government with the introduction of several constitutional amendments that will create additional obstacles for any opposition to Mubarak’s government.

For the full article, click here.

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Iraqi refugee crisis influencing Syrian sex trade

Along with being forced to flee their homes and lifestyles, some Iraqi refugees have also been forced into the sex trade in Syria, The New York Times reported today.

Umm Hiba, an Iraqi refugee, was forced to flee Baghdad with her family due to increased militia attacks. With the rise in instability and violence, the number of Iraqi refugees in Syria has risen significantly, causing great tension in Syrian society.

Based on a recommendation by a fellow refugee, Umm Hiba took her daughter to interview at a dance club in Syria. To the surprise of many, the transition from refugee to prostitute is far too commonplace. With an increasing number of female heads of households fleeing the violence in Iraq, prostitution is the only way in which some can provide for their family.

As the economic status of the refugees continues to drop, some women are tricked into the industry or become involved as a last resort to feed their families. “So many of the Iraqi women arriving now are living on their own with their children because the men in their families were killed or kidnapped,” said Sister Marie-Claude Naddaf, a Syrian nun at the Good Shepherd convent in Damascus.

“We’re especially concerned that there are young girls involved, and that they’re being forced, even smuggled into Syria in some cases,” Dietrun Günther, an official at the United Nations refugee agency’s Damascus office, said.

The number of Iraqi refugees has grown at such a fast rate that countries such as Syria and Jordan have started to restrict access to the fleeing population. The bordering countries have not been able to provide adequate assistance even with U.N. refugee bodies present. Access to public services is an ongoing struggle as host governments begin to feel the strain of the refugee population amidst increased instability in Iraq.

For the full article, click here.

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Algerian women making dramatic gains

Despite the burdens of tradition and the devastating legacy of civil war, a new movement is underway in Algeria, The New York Times reported Saturday. With an unprecedented increase in the number of women involved in the economic and political realms, Algeria is setting the mark for the rest of the Arab world to follow. More than 70 percent of the lawyers and 60 percent of the judges in the tradition-bound nation are women. In addition to the legal field, women also dominate medicine and make up 60 percent of university students.

While women are seldom seen occupying public roles elsewhere in the region, Algerian women are increasingly visible in traditionally male positions such as bus and taxi drivers, waiters, and gas station attendants. Although women are only 20 percent of the Algerian work force, this number has doubled since the previous generation. “If such a trend continues,” said Daho Djerbal, editor and publisher of Naqd, a magazine of social criticism and analysis, “we will see a new phenomenon where our public administration will also be controlled by women.”

The Algerian trend has been carried out by women who are more religious and more modern. The result is a population wearing the traditional Islamic hijab while working alongside men. The rise in women’s involvement in the public sphere constitutes what the article dubs the “quiet revolution” in Algeria; an occurrence that shows great prospects for alleviating gender oppression based on religious fundamentalism. The trend in Algeria is slowly changing the meaning of being a woman in an Islamic state, the article says.

For the full article, click here.

Crackdown on dissent continues in Viet Nam

Viet Nam continues the harshest political crackdown in 20 years as public dissent continues increases, TIME Magazine reported Monday. In recent months, 12 human rights activists have been arrested for “spreading propaganda against the Socialist Republic.” With 60 percent of the population under 30 years old, the Vietnamese government has opted for a more public crackdown against the pro-democracy movement over the subtler approach used in previous crackdowns.

Despite the crackdown, the government is apparently attempting to show citizens that the system is becoming more open and democratic following the May 20 National Assembly elections. With a growing economy, most criticisms of the political crackdown have come outside of the country. A recent Gallup International survey labeled Viet Nam the world’s most optimistic country, with 94 percent of urban residents positive about improvements in living standards in 2007.

However, even with 7 percent annual growth, Viet Nam can only progress so far without allowing peaceful criticisms of their system. So long as activists like Nguyen Van Dai, a prominent human rights lawyer, are imprisoned for speaking out against oppression, outrage can be expected from both the international community and the Vietnamese people.

In the 2007 Amnesty International country report, Viet Nam was criticized for an increase in harassment towards dissidents and religious and ethnic minorities. The report also denounced the ongoing crackdown: “The government crackdown on lawyers and housing rights activists intensified. Many human rights defenders were subjected to lengthy periods of arbitrary detention without charge, as well as harassment by the police or by local gangs apparently condoned by the police.”

For the full article, click here.

For the Amnesty 2007 country report, click here.

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Afghan police open fire on demonstrators,killing 7

During a protest against a provisional governor, Afghan police opened fire on the crowd killing seven civilians and injuring thirty, BBC News reported Monday. The demonstrators, supporters of the Uzbek fighter Gen. Rashid Dostum, were posted outside government offices in Shiberghan to show their support amidst tensions between Governor Joma Khan Hamdard and Dostum.

A spokesperson for Hamdard characterized the demonstration as a “public uprising” against the governor. Dostum is among the most controversial figures in Afghan politics. In the 1980s he sided with the Soviet Union and in 2001 he was accused of authorizing egregious acts of torture that left hundreds of detainees dead in the U.S. fight against the Taliban.

BBC News also reports the death of more than 20 civilians after a bombing raid, marking heightened violence that has not been seen since the defeat of Taliban forces in 2001. U.S. coalition representatives have denied allegations of increased civilian deaths following the release of a Red Cross critique of ineffective bombing raids.

For the full article, click here.